School districts need standards, not a free pass

Here is some more information reinforcing TSTA’s concern about the new Texas Education Agency rule giving school districts a huge loophole for declaring financial emergencies in order to fire more teachers.

As I outlined in my previous Grading Texas post, the rule was adopted by state Education Commissioner Robert Scott to help carry out Senate Bill 8, an antiteacher law enacted during the June special session, making it easier for school districts to put much of the brunt of the $5 billionplus in state education cuts on classrooms and students. Senate Bill 8 allows districts to furlough teachers, cut their pay and declare financial emergencies in order to lay off more employees.

According to a survey conducted by three superintendents before the holidays, 85 percent of 53 school districts in the Panhandle already have cut their budgets, with the brunt of the cuts falling on staffing and programs affecting students. The survey is linked below. One superintendent told the Amarillo GlobeNews that struggling students were particularly hurt because they lost the extra help from support staff that they needed. And, with more budget reductions anticipated for the 20122013 school year, superintendents are not through dealing with the crisis yet.

Several hundred districts are suing the state in an effort to force the Legislature to adopt a more equitable and adequate school finance system, but that litigation will take months to work its way through state courts. Meanwhile, districts in the Panhandle and elsewhere will be looking with interest at TEA’s new rule, establishing standards for declaring a financial emergency, or “exigency.”

Part of the rule does set specific standards including loss of state funding, declining enrollment, unforeseen natural disasters or unanticipated major expenses – that promote accountability from school districts. But Commissioner Scott added a subsection that creates a loophole. It would allow a financial emergency to be declared for a school district under “any other circumstances approved in writing” by the education commissioner. TSTA has asked the commissioner to delete that subsection because it, in effect, eliminates any standards whatsoever.

The budgetcutting in the Panhandle is only a small sample of what has been going on – and will continue – in school districts across Texas. And, the ultimate victims are school children. Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority are responsible for the mess. But if TEA is going to impose standards, they should be standards, not a free pass.


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